You don’t mess with the Zohar
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You don’t mess with the Zohar

Meet Zohar Dvir, Israel’s newly named deputy police commissioner, who reportedly inspired Adam Sandler’s Zohan character

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Newly named Israel Police Deputy Commissioner  Zohar Dvir speaks at a press conference on July 6, 2014. (Gil Eliyahu/Flash90)
Newly named Israel Police Deputy Commissioner Zohar Dvir speaks at a press conference on July 6, 2014. (Gil Eliyahu/Flash90)

With steely eyes and a strong jaw, Zohar Dvir — named Israel Police deputy commissioner on Sunday — is the Hollywood image of a tough but fair commander, and his personal history only supports that impression.

On Sunday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan accepted newly installed Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich’s recommendation that he replace retiring Deputy Commissioner Bentzi Sau, who had also served as acting commissioner since July, with Northern District commander Dvir.

Sau, who has also served as the head of the Tel Aviv Police since 2010, informed Erdan last month that he would be leaving the police by the end of 2015.

Dvir, 50, served in the IDF’s roughneck Golani Brigade for over a decade, attaining the rank of major, before moving to the Israel Police.

He joined the force in 1999 and in the 16 years since has risen rapidly through the ranks.

You Don't Mess with the Zohan poster
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan poster

Dvir made his bones as commander of the Special Police Unit, known in Hebrew by the acronym “Yamam,” a force similar to American SWAT teams.

He served from 2001 to 2007, through the worst of the Second Intifada, which makes him the longest-serving commander in the unit’s 40-year history.

That Dvir is the Hollywood concept of an elite Israeli counter-terrorism fighter is no mere hyperbole. Many claim that the main character in Adam Sandler’s 2008 film “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” — a former crack IDF operative whose full name is actually Zohan Dvir — was based on him.

“I don’t think it is, but I will never say it isn’t,” Zohar Dvir told Army Radio when the movie was released.

Humble but auspicious beginnings

Born in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion to Romanian immigrants, Dvir né Davidovich studied at the Military Boarding School for Command, a high school run by the army, which prepares students to be combat and field officers in the IDF.

Among the school’s graduates are former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and commander of the IDF’s Galilee Division Brig. Gen. Amir Baram.

Upon graduating, Dvir began the Israel Air Force’s demanding pilot’s course, but eventually washed out. (In Israel, however, just being accepted to the flight academy is considered an impressive feat.)

Israeli soldiers of the Golani Brigade training in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, near the Israel-Syria border, January 19, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli soldiers of the Golani Brigade training in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, near the Israel-Syria border, January 19, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)

Dvir moved to the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion, where he became an officer. In his 12 years in the brigade, he served as a platoon and company commander, as deputy commander of the 51st Battalion and finally as head of the brigade’s reconnaissance unit from 1992 to 1994 before leaving the IDF in 1995.

After a few years working for private security companies, Dvir joined the Israel Police, going straight to the Yamam. He served as a regular officer in the unit before moving to its command in 2001.

A close call

In November 2003 a Yamam officer died in a car accident in the middle of the night. Despite the late hour, Dvir quickly set out to alert the officer’s family.

On his way to the family’s home, however, Dvir encountered another car accident just south of the coastal city of Zichron Yaakov.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. he stopped to help the injured driver, who was trapped in his car, which had flipped over in the crash.

After Dvir called an ambulance, a truck being driven on the road’s shoulder plowed into the flipped car, killing its driver instantly and critically wounding Dvir who was standing next to it.

The ambulance arrived soon after and took the unconscious Dvir to the nearby Hillel Yafeh Hospital in Hadera.

Dvir suffered from a head injury, internal bleeding including intracranial bleeding, and broken arms, ribs, shoulder and jaw.

“He was crushed, simply crushed,” one of the doctors treating him told reporters at the time.

Five days after the accident, Dvir woke up.

Just two and a half months after an accident that nearly killed him, Dvir returned to the Yamam.

A flawless record

During his service as commander of the Yamam, the unit prevented some 50 suicide bombing attacks and arrested hundreds of terrorists and killed another 179.

File. Israel's Special Police Unit (Yamam) storm a house in the city of Ashkelon on December 4, 2013. (David Buimovitch/Flash90)
File. Israel’s Special Police Unit (Yamam) storm a house in the city of Ashkelon on December 4, 2013. (David Buimovitch/Flash90)

Despite the violence and uncertainty of the Second Intifada, no Yamam officers died in service under his command.

The name of the Yamam commander is kept a secret while he is in the position so Dvir’s identity was only released to the public in 2007, after he had been promoted to head the northeastern Valleys Division of the Israel Police.

As chief of the Valleys Division, which polices the areas around Tiberias, Afula, Nazareth Illit and other cities surrounding the Sea of Galilee, Dvir again rose to distinction.

On March 1, 2008, at 3:30 a.m., a man suffering from PTSD arrived at the Nazareth police station with a live fragmentation grenade, with the pin already pulled, threatening to throw it into the building.

After a 50-minute negotiation, Dvir managed to convince the man to hand him the grenade. Dvir replaced the grenade’s pin and arrested the man, who was handed over for psychiatric evaluation.

In 2011 Dvir was promoted to major general and placed in charge of the Israel Police’s Logistical Support Directorate.

Dvir returned to the Northern District in 2014, this time as its chief.

When Maj. Gen. Chagai Dotan, the former head of the Israel Police’s Coastal District, was dismissed from the force under accusations of sexual harassment, Dvir took over that district as well.

Dvir lives with his wife Netta and three children in the northern city of Tivon near Haifa.

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